Top producers defend gov't body

Bitching about the U.K. Film Council has become Brit industryites’ favorite pastime. Rather than recalling success stories such as “Gosford Park,” “Vera Drake” or “Touching the Void,” it’s far more entertaining to whine about flops like “Sex Lives of the Potato Men” or the pics that the governmental body didn’t support.

But now that the Film Council, which set itself the Herculean task of creating a self-sustaining and vibrant local biz, has reached the tender age of 5, many of Blighty’s indie producers are asking for a change of tack.

“I’m so bored with producers moaning about the Film

Council and blaming them if their picture doesn’t get made. You have to think of them as just one of several financing options, and if you get turned down, you simply have to look elsewhere,” says Vertigo Films topper Allan Niblo.

Simon Channing-Williams, who produced “Vera Drake” and “The Constant Gardener” with Film Council coin, says he had a very positive experience. “We probably wouldn’t have made ‘The Constant Gardener’ without them. It was during that very dodgy time when the Treasury suddenly pulled out. The Film Council realized the urgency of the situation and redoubled their financing efforts.”

Similarly, “The Descent” and “Separate Lies” producer Christian Colson believes that the org’s three-tier funding system, consisting of the Development Fund, the avant-garde New Cinema Fund and the commercially driven Premiere Fund, is a good thing all round — even if “Descent” didn’t receive any Film Council coin.

“Let’s praise where praise is due,” says “Mrs. Henderson Presents” producer Norma Heyman. “We need all the help we can get. The indie sector is in quite a desperate situation at the moment and I don’t think we should knock any source of money.”

Heyman singles out the Development Fund, headed by Jenny Borgars, as particularly beneficial to the indie sector. “Better films get made with better scripts. Many of these films are yet to come to fruition. But really, there’s nowhere else to go for development money.”

“It’s helping the industry a great deal,” says Colson, who like Heyman has a project in development with Borgars. “More films that otherwise wouldn’t have the chance of being developed are now receiving funding and as a result there’s a lot more product in the marketplace, which is a good thing.”

Yet, it’s not all smiles and warm hugs between the Film Council and indie producers. Because its funding system is selective rather than automatic, as in some European countries, and because its executives reserve the right to express their opinions, frustration and disagreement are inevitable.

“The problem with the selective system is that you can have frustrated filmmakers working for these public organizations and you’re dealing with people’s tastes and personalities. As a producer you have to learn to maneuver around that,” advises Christopher Young, who produced “Festival” with coin from the New Cinema Fund. Young is quick to add, “I didn’t have any problems with the Film Council and having previously made a film with a lottery franchise, I felt a much greater independence.”

There are also those who don’t think that the Film Council, as far as the development of new policies and tax incentives are concerned, always is acting in the interest of independent producers.

“I’m very sad the Film Council sees itself obliged to be a purely government arm. I’d imagined that when the Film Council was created it would be much more representative of independent film producers in the U.K.,” says producer Timothy Burrill. “There is a danger that government organizations, who are responsible for the film industry, forget that without independent film producers they don’t have a job.”

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